The beauty industry is worth £6bn to the UK economy, with nail treatments being one of the core segments that make up this total. From simple French manicures to extreme gel extensions, beauty lovers can’t get enough of their nails. So, it’s definitely a promising career choice if you enjoy all things beauty.
Compared with other beauty treatments, nails require a lot of upkeep with the average manicure only lasting between 7-14 days. Therefore, there’s plenty of demand for nail technicians, especially those who can master more complicated techniques.
If you are considering getting into the nail industry, there are a lot of opportunities to not only earn a great salary but work in a variety of exciting locations. So regardless of the area of nail application you choose such as gel or acrylics, here is what the process of becoming a nail technician looks like.
Nail Technician: An Overview
As a nail technician, you’ll be expected to apply and remove various nail polish types, as well as file and shape the nails, depending on your client’s preferences.
Nail technicians need to be someone who keeps up with the latest trends and has excellent customer service skills. Clients should leave your salon with beautiful looking nails that are completed to a high standard. Though most importantly, clients should feel pampered and well taken care of due to your welcoming and professional nature.
Having smart looking nails has always been in vogue. Recently the trend has moved more towards more expressive nail styles such as extensions or long-lasting polish types including gel and shellac. With such demand comes the need to know how to perform different types of manicures.
Unlike regular nail polish, gel and shellac require extensive training to be able to master, especially with lots of different tools and products involved. Therefore, there is a lot of theory involved, not to mention the need to practice on as many models as possible. Newer nail treatments also cost a premium to have applied, making the industry full of potential for nail technicians and salon owners alike.
Nail Technician Responsibilities
- Clean and file nails
- Apply polish
- Nail art
- Gemstone application
- Glitter application
- Remove polish
- Inspect nails for any signs of problems
- Clean and sanitise equipment
- General salon maintenance
- Keep up to date with the latest nail trends
Nail Technician Job Prospects
Average nail technician salary: £12,000-£25,000
On average, it takes less time and money to train as a nail technician versus other areas of beauty. This is excellent news if you want to hit the ground running in your new career. Though it’s good to note that unless working in a salon, you’ll need to purchase your kit before you can start work.
Here are some of the options you have when it comes to your place of work as a nail technician:
Most beauty salons have at least one nail technician under their roof. It’s also possible to find some hair salons who employ nail technicians too. If you don’t wish to be self-employed, then working within a beauty salon is the way to go.
An advantage of working in a beauty salon environment is that you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, plus you’ll have a steady stream of customers without having to market yourself to clients. There are approximately 11,000 beauty salons across the UK, meaning there are plenty of job opportunities.
Progression within a beauty salon may be challenging, as nail technicians do not perform all beauty treatments as a beauty therapist would. However, it’s a great place to start as you become more experienced.
Nail technicians also work in hotels and spas, and this includes luxury hotel chains who will charge a premium for your services. It’s also possible to find a job on cruise ships travelling the world, with your clients wanting a top-up of their manicure while onboard.
As a self-employed nail technician, you are free to set your own rates. Though you will need to consider overheads, tax, insurance etc to ensure you are making a decent profit. Some beauty salons also rent a chair to self-employed nail technicians, and in some parts of the UK, you can earn anywhere between £150 and £300 by doing this.
Self-employed nail technicians also work within the film, TV and fashion industry. Celebrity manicures can run into tens of thousands of pounds, making it extremely lucrative work for anyone who goes down this avenue and succeeds.
When it comes to needing hands on experience to gain employment, this quite literally is the case if you want to become a nail technician. Clients are going to request everything from a simple file and polish, to gem encrusted coffin shaped nails. Anything goes with nails, and the only way you can master all that’s required is to get experience, especially if you are trying to get a job in the industry.
It can be helpful to build a portfolio, especially on social media. Visual examples of your work might just clinch you the job, especially if you have no prior salon experience. If you’re able to take an NVQ course, then this will involve working within a salon environment, which will also help you make contacts for potential employment.
What Training Does A Nail Technician Need?
There is a lot of technical, not to mention safety knowledge, that you need to master with nails before you can be let loose on the public. Typically, this takes the form of formal training that will give you the certification to practice as a nail technician.
There are as many avenues into the nail industry as there are nail polish colours to choose from. Therefore, it’s accessible to anyone, even those who may not be able to study full time due to work or childcare commitments.
Here is just a snapshot of some of the main ways you can get qualified as a nail technician:
NVQs in beauty exist to cover beauty as a whole, or specifically nail services.
If you want to work in other areas of beauty such as waxing, facials or eyebrow treatments, then you can take Beauty Therapy NVQ Level 1-4. This qualification is available at most vocational colleges, as well as private training providers across the UK. While nails will be covered within beauty therapy courses, they will not be the only focus. So it might not be the option for you if nails are the only aspect of beauty you wish to focus on.
An NVQ course also exists specifically for nail services. It covers everything you need to know about performing various nail application techniques. You’ll also be taught health and safety procedures, as well as learning about the day to day running of a salon. No previous experience is required, and if you are under 18 or long term unemployed, the course is usually free.
Apprenticeships allow you to earn while you learn, and are available for nail technicians as well as general beauty therapists. As an apprentice, you’ll work within a beauty salon or retail store performing treatments on clients, in line with the company values and methodology.
While apprenticeships aren’t well paid (£4.55-£8.20 depending on your age), they are more likely to lead to a job, seeing as you’ll already be working for the employer. They are also an ideal option for anyone who cannot afford the cost of an NVQ or similar training course.
CBPA (Candor Professional Beauty Academy) offers free nail technician courses that are government funded. The courses are for anyone without any previous training in the industry, who cannot commit to full time study.
Applicants are required to commit to 1.5 days a week for 16 weeks to qualify. They’ll also support you in becoming a self-employed nail technician, by providing you with a free website builder to get your nail business noticed online.
VCTC (Vocational Training Charitable Trust) also offers NVQ courses. However, they give you the chance to specialise in specific areas of nails such as nail enhancement using liquid and powder or providing pedicure services. Whichever course you choose, you’ll get plenty of practical experience which you’ll need to gain employment. Course costs vary according to the accredited centre which you train at.
Nail Technician Training Schools
Another option is to complete a training course at an accredited institution. Companies such as The Nail Academy offer 4-day courses starting from £160. Expect to pay closer to £800 to learn more complex gel or acrylic nail techniques. Some companies also allow you to pay for your course in instalments, which may suit those wishing to become self-employed as a nail technician.
Where To Find Nail Technician Courses
Your first port of call for any vocational course should be your local college. The majority of towns and cities across the UK have access to hair and beauty courses, including nail technician courses. These are normally free for those who are of school leaver age, or in the receipt of certain benefits.
If you are unemployed, your local job centre should be able to point you in the direction of free training courses.
It’s also worth networking with local beauty professionals too, as they may be able to advise where the best local training centres are.
How To Become A Gel Nail Technician
Gel nails are popular as they last much longer than regular nail polish. Therefore, clients are likely to request them for holidays, weddings etc. The majority of nail technician courses will cover gel nails. This includes the application of the gel, curing the nails under heat and the removal process. Also, how to care for nails after the removal of gel polish, as gel can be tough on nails.
Becoming An Acrylic Nail Technician
Acrylic nails are favoured due to their stylish appearance and long-lasting nature. However, the application and removal of gel nails is extremely technical. Therefore to become an acrylic technician, you’ll need to ensure your chosen course covers acrylic nails specifically.
This is also an area that requires a lot of practical experience in, especially when it comes to mastering stiletto or coffin shaped gel nails. The application of gemstones and glitter can also be quite tricky.
Be prepared to enlist the help of friends and family to practice on, as due to gel nails being the most expensive of all nail services, your clients are going to expect perfection.
Can I Take An Online Nail Technician Course?
Absolutely. The rise in remote learning across all industries has meant that nail technician courses are now also available online. This may include through traditional channels such as NVQs who have switched to teaching online.
It’s good to note that you’ll still need plenty of practical experience. Not only you do need to learn about different nail shapes, but your work will need to be inspected by a qualified professional too. Though, you can learn the theory behind being a nail technician online, including health and safety regulations.
Does A Nail Technician Need Insurance?
Self-employed nail technicians will need to take out liability insurance. Your insurance will need to cover you against clients who may be injured on your property. Plus, you’ll need to take out cover against the work itself, or any advice you have given out.
If you are working as an employee, your employer will have to have insurance to cover them for the treatments provided. Although this insurance covers you, it does not require you to personality obtain it or claim on it if needed.
What’s In A Nail Technicians Starter Kit?
- Polishes: Regular nail polish, gel, acrylics or shellac.
- Additional polishes: Topcoats, basecoats, nail strengthener, nail dehydrator, cuticle oils,
- Tools: UV Lamp, steam steriliser, nail clippers, nail files, electric nail files, nail buffers, cuticle tools
- Accessories: Cotton pads, foil, toe separators, acetone, nail display cards, table, chair, kit bag.
What Equipment Does A Nail Technician Need?
Much of what a nail technician needs can be found in the above list. The main difference is that as you begin to build experience, you may wish to build on the tools you own, particularly when it comes to polish options.
Clients can be very picky, and no two clients are going to want the same finish. It’s good to have a mix of shades that are neutral, neon, glossy, matte etc. Plus, accessories such as gemstones and glitters, especially for luxury manicures.
Where Can I Buy Nail Technician Supplies?
Various beauty wholesalers will sell you industry standard products at trade prices. Good examples include Hollywood Nails & Beauty Supplies, as well as Sally Beauty. Many nail companies such as OPI, Nails Inc, Glam & Glits and Mylee also supply salons and self-employed nail technicians directly.
Advantages Of Being A Nail Technician
As with any role in the beauty industry, your job involves making people feel better about themselves, which can be hugely satisfying. You also get to meet different people every day, all while being creative in your job.
Being a nail technician is a career that has longevity, especially since it is part of a booming economy. Once qualified, you can choose to work locally or anywhere in the world, as nails are an in-demand service across the globe.
If you have a passion for nails, then working as a professional nail technician is a dream job. Therefore, being paid to do what you love is by far the biggest benefit.
Disadvantages Of Being A Nail Technician
You have to have a genuine passion for nails, as unlike general beauty therapy, there isn’t as much variety in the work that you do as a nail technician.
The starting salary for nail technicians isn’t that high, which can be a barrier to some wanting to enter the field. Though, it’s possible to progress, especially if you choose to be self-employed instead of working within a salon environment.
You also need to be prepared to work with clients, including those who might be a little difficult, or at best indecisive! But as you gain experience, you’ll learn to communicate with clients better and manage their expectations.
Anyone can become a nail technician, so long as they have the drive and passion to succeed. Unlike other careers, it doesn’t take a long time to become qualified. There is plenty of demand for nail technicians, meaning jobs are never in short supply. This includes whether you want to work in a traditional salon environment or go it alone as a self-employed nail technician.
Ultimately, you have to genuinely enjoy nails, especially extreme acrylic styles that are currently the trend, to progress your career. Such manicures can be difficult to master, and aren’t as quick to complete as a regular file and polish. But, with the increased earning potential it pays to perfect newer techniques if you want to succeed as a nail technician in the current climate.